New Delhi: India has slipped 28 places to rank 140th among 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, becoming the third-worst performer in South Asia.
Now in its 15th year, the report benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. It also examines the drivers of gender gaps and outlines the policies and practices needed for a gender-inclusive recovery.
According to the report, India had so far closed 62.5% of its gender gap, but it has widened over the past year. In the 2020 index, WEF had said that India had closed 66.8% of its gender gap. In that year’s index, the country had ranked 112th among 153 countries.
In South Asia, only Pakistan and Afghanistan ranked below India.
The report says most of the decline in India has occurred on the political empowerment subindex, where India has regressed 13.5% points to reach a level of gap closed to date of just 27.6%. “The main change that took place this year is the significant decline in the share of women among ministers, which halved, from 23.1% in 2019 to 9.1% in 2021,” the report said.
In addition, the share of women in parliament remains stagnant at 14.4% and the share of the last 50 years in which a woman has been head of state is 15.5. A decline also took place on the economic participation and opportunity subindex, “albeit to a lesser extent” WEF said. India’s gender gap on this dimension widened by 3% this year, leading to a 32.6% gap closed to date.
“Among the drivers of this decline are a decrease in women’s labour force participation rate, which fell from 24.8% to 22.3%. In addition, the share of women in professional and technical roles declined further to 29.2%. The share of women in senior and managerial positions also remains low: only 14.6% of these positions are held by women and there are only 8.9% of firms with female top managers.
Further, the estimated earned income of women in India is only one-fifth of that of men, which puts the country among the bottom 10 globally on this indicator, it said.
Discrimination against women is also reflected in the health and survival subindex statistics. With 93.7% of this gap closed to date, India ranks among the bottom five countries in this subindex.
Wide gaps in sex ratio at birth are due to the high incidence of gender-based sex-selective practices. In addition, more than one in four women has faced intimate violence in her lifetime, the report said.
“Conversely, 96.2% of the educational attainment subindex gender gap has been closed, with parity achieved in primary, secondary and tertiary education. Yet, gender gaps persist in terms of literacy: one third of women are illiterate (34.2%) compared to 17.6% of men,” it added.
Bangladesh is best performer in South Asia
Among India’s neighbours, Bangladesh ranked 65, Nepal 106, Pakistan 153, Afghanistan 156, Bhutan 130 and Sri Lanka 116.
Among regions, South Asia is the second-lowest performer on the index, with 62.3% of its overall gender gap closed. Only the Middle East and North Africa performed worse, WEF said.
“Within the region, a wide gulf separates the best-performing country, Bangladesh, which has closed 71.9% of its gender gap so far, from Afghanistan, which has only closed 44.4% of its gap.
“India is the third-worst performer in the region, having closed 62.5% of its gap. Because of its large population, India’s performance has a substantial impact on the region’s overall performance,” the report said.
The report stated that India, home to 0.65 billion women, has widened its gender gap from 66.8% one year ago to 62.5% this year.
Iceland at the top, Afghanistan bottom
For the 12th time, Iceland is the most gender-equal country in the world according to the index. The top 10 most gender-equal countries is rounded off by Finland, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, Namibia, Rwanda, Lithuania Ireland and Switzerland.
The UK is ranked 23rd, while the US is lower, at 30.
At the other end of the spectrum, Afghanistan is the most unequal country, the WEF report says. Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Mali, Chad and Saudi Arabia complete the worst 10 countries when it comes to gender inequality.
This year’s results reduce the total progress made towards gender parity to just a 3.6 percentage-point gain since 2006, the WEF report said, saying that on average over the past 15 years, the gap has been reduced by only 0.24 percentage points per year.
“If progress towards gender parity proceeds at the same speed observed between the 2006 and 2021 editions, the overall global gender gap is projected to close in 135.6 years. It will therefore take longer than reported in the 2020 edition, due to widening average gender gaps, as well as to a plateauing in performances over the past few years,” the report says.
“As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years,” the report said.
The report said women continue to face economic and workplace difficulties and declining political participation, despite the progress in education and health. It advocates the enforcement of strategies that will oversee equal hiring practices and skills development.